Ram Rattan Sharma
Many of us are moved by the plight of destitute children and genuinely wish to help them but don’t know how to go about it. In this field as in many others, good intentions alone are not enough. Reinforced with self discipline and some knowledge of how to tackle the issue, good intentions can make a breakthrough to educate destitute children. Before a teacher can lead students to the fount of knowledge he/she must uncomplainingly accept them as they are; be they dirty and unwashed, ill-mannered or loud. They are children in need of care. It is equally important to establish a rapport with destitute children and be accepted by them, or else we cannot touch the heart of the problem. To this end it is advisable to start by mingling with them quietly, unobtrusively, without any hint as to our real intent. Acceptance goes hand in hand with understating. Once we put our squeamishness behind us and learn to see the child behind the rags, we will begin to appreciate the pressures that made him what he is.
Most migrant children run away from home. They are victims of unhappy childhood, of poverty and hunger and various forms of maladjustment. In many cases, such children have undergone terms in a remand home and the experience does nothing to heal the wounds, what does help, however, is counseling, which is why counseling forms the first step towards educating a destitute child. Let us have no illusion about it, Runaways are most unwilling to be restored to their parents. Their on constant refrain is, “Do not send me back.” Patience finally wins the day and we require endless patience in order to explain them benefits of belonging to a family, be it ever so harsh and impoverished , for the alternative being root less in a big, bad world-is infinitely worse. Most of these children are aware of the negative side of life of drugs and extortion and harassment by the police, having had a brush with all of it and more but they will prefer to live on the pavement and feel free ‘” rather than submit to parental aberration . Many suffer from a culture shock on being suddenly exposed to life in a big city, utterly out of their depth and yet unable to go back. They need someone who will stand between them and life, if not to protect, at least to mould and soften their negative attitudes towards society. When dealing with destitute children it is best to post pone direct teaching till much later, because they are simply not prepared for it. Many are school drop outs, who ran away from home because they were forced to attended school. It is best to start teaching through skits along the lines of nukkar natak, where a message is conveyed through a real life situation that the children can relate to . They discuss it at leisure and it tends to stick in the mind, particularly if it is laced with humour. Games play a cathartic role in that they channelize pent-up energy and promote the team spirit. So is craft, which can prove to be both absorbing and rewarding, a much needed reprieve from a drab existence. In this mileu, a teacher with musical and artistic skills would be a positive asset. We cannot really talk to street children about the virtues of cleanliness, when they do not have access to water or a proper toilet. Most of them do not possess a change of clothes, either. Even if they did, where would they keep it? That does not mean however, that we steer clear of the subject. Every child must be taught not just how to keep himself clean but why it is important to do so, needless to say, teaching will take on a deeper significance. If the basic facilities of life could be made available to those children.
Having established our credentials as friend and well wisher of our group of street children, it is time to broach the topic of literacy. We will immediately come up against a conscientious objection. Reading and writing? Why on earth? It would not help us with our kind of work”. At this point, it is good to remember that very few of these children consider it a privilege to go to school and it simply would not do to hold up a high school certificate as a plum because , in their scheme of things, it has no meaning , what does, however, make sense to street children is functional literacy. Pushed in to earning a living, most of them working independently as unlicensed coolies, shoe shine boys, hawkers, domestic help and soon in some cases , their earnings may amount to as much as Rs.50 per day, but they know nothing about budgeting of resources when money flows in. As they eat well, go to the movies, indulge in a smoke they generally enjoy themselves. In lean times, the picture is just the reverse because there is nothing to fall back upon. Citing this as an example, a teacher can motivate them towards functional literacy unburdened by constraints of syllabus or examinations. The idea is to make them that being literate, they can do better business and nobody can cheat them, like wise, simple arithmetic can enable them to maintain a saving account and get their first taste of security. The process, from persuasion to education, take a lot of time. There is alongside, an urgent need to induct such children in to vocational training courses, that would open for them an alternative source of employment, close to where they live. Many dedicated , non Govt. organizations doing excellent work in this area would be glad to have more volunteers.
(The author is former Dy Librarian University of Jammu)
Ram Rattan Sharma